Into the Wild

The long way home

The treacherous trail conditions this year have taken their toll on mushers and dogs. 12 teams have scratched so far. Mushers hit the ground, sleds turned upside down, and dogs were sliding down steep slopes. Then again 57 teams are still in the race, some on record pace.

The bad luck of some gave us the opportunity to talk to mushers and listen to their story. Jim Lanier, 73, has run the Iditarod sixteen times! He always finished. Not this year. After a bad fall in the Steps he decided to scratch at Puntilla Lake. Scratched and bruised he spent two days with us, taking care of his dogs and himself. While he was boiling water on the ice and preparing food for his dogs I tried to pry information from him about his motivation. It was a clear morning. At 9 o’clock the temperature was about 10 degrees, but with a 10 knot breeze out of the North, it was admirable how this man worked the stove, filled the bowls with a hot mix of kibbles, fat and water placing the food in front of every dog with loving care, enticing them to eat.

Jim Lanier

Jim Lanier

“Why do you want to come back next year? What is your motivation?”
“Same as yours. Why do you spend the winter here.”

“Well, I am not really sure.”
“Same here.”

So much for that. I guess the race is an adventure, raising and training dogs is a lifestyle. Once exposed to it and catching the bug you are hooked.

Interested in reading more about Jim first hand? He has written “Beyond Ophir“, confessions of an Iditarod musher, an Alaskan odyssey.

The long way home

The long way home

Musher, dogs, and sleds are being air lifted back to Anchorage in the coming days. It will be a long trip home.

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Into the Wild

The day before the race

Siberian

Enjoying a moment in the sun

The big sled dog race to Nome started today in Anchorage. Just for show. The mushers gave rides to VIPs through town and paraded their B-team, while the race dogs got a last rest day before the real start tomorrow.

A crew of veterinarians, checkers, and other Iditarod staff came in today and set up their check point at our cook house. We were busy all day preparing the lodge for guests, staff, media, mushers, and dogs.

We are expecting the first team to arrive at Puntilla Lake some time in the early morning of Monday. Within 9 hours all teams should pass through our check point. I hope to catch some of the action happening in between.

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Siberian
Into the Wild

In their own way

Today, Peter Ripmaster, the last runner in the Iditarod Trail Invitational left Puntilla Lake with blisters on his feet. In obvious pain, but otherwise in good spirits.

Robert Loveman spent the night at Rainy Pass Lodge with four Siberian Huskies on his way to Nome. He is not participating in the Iditarod race allowing him to set his own pace and playing by his own rules. He is mushing a small dog team, which he supports by being on skis. This year’s icy trail conditions may support his ambitious goal.

Robert Loveman and his Siberian Huskies

Robert Loveman and his Siberian Huskies

Good luck to both of you.

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Into the Wild

You wonder why?

The winners of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational are probably already back home, while others are continuing their adventure heading towards Nome. As in other sports the leaders made it look easy. Not only because they were in great shape but also because they had outstanding conditions, hard snow, no wind and cold temperatures that kept the trail firm and gripping. Now the conditions have changed. Above freezing temperatures brought some rain, and made the trail soft and mushy. The athletes that are still on the trail are the real heroes in my book. They are tired, at their limit, exposed to the elements for a much longer time. We have seen blisters and frostbite. Fatigue, hunger, and thirst.

Still, many athletes have noticed and commented on the beautiful scenery. They also expressed respect for their competitors breaking records left and right this year.

The question remains: Why? What is the motivation for these individuals to enter such a race? For some it is about winning, for others it is about finishing, for some it is an adventure, for some it is a vacation. It was a pleasure to meet these folks, especially the ones that took the time to chat with us or have their picture taken.

Passing through Puntilla Lake

Passing through Puntilla Lake

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Into the Wild

And the winner is…

Kevin Breitenbach

Kevin Breitenbach – winner of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Invitational

Kevin Breitenbach was the first to cross the finish line in McGrath covering 350 miles in 2 days 4 hours and 43 minutes. Tim Bernston came in as a close second just 21 minutes behind the leader. Third place went to Alec Petro. The trio was leading the race early on and never looked back.

The winning trio leaving Puntilla Lake

The winning trio leaving Puntilla Lake

Several riders coming into Puntilla Lake commented on the beauty of the place. I wonder how much time the leaders had to admire the scenery. Many riders arrived at Puntilla Lake in the dark, a few left in the middle of the night.

Some riders took the time to sleep over in the warm guide shack: “Life is too short to race”. Breakfast in the morning, waiting for the sun to warm the cold winter air. Beautiful clear skies and vistas were their reward.

Riding Puntilla Lake with a smile.

Riding Puntilla Lake with a smile.

On the Iditarod Trail

On the Iditarod Trail

Another notable event was the arrival of the first walker, Dave Johnson, running about 120 miles in 2 days. He took a nap, gave an interview and headed towards Rainy Pass.

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnston

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Iditarod Trai Invitational
Into the Wild

Iditarod Trail Invitational

After less than 24 hours the first three riders arrived at Puntilla Lake! Tim Bernston, Kevin Breitenbach, and Alec Petro were the first ones to check in and leave Puntilla Lake for Rainy Pass a few hours later. A short rest in our warm guide shack and a hot meal was all they took before heading out again.

Tim Bernston, Kevin Breitenbach, and Alec Petro heading for Rainy Pass

Tim Bernston, Kevin Breitenbach, and Alec Petro heading for Rainy Pass

Pretty amazing sight seeing bicycles in the middle of nowhere. The bikes are snowbikes with big fat tires, and metal studs! Every rider carries some required gear, such as a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and food. 50 individuals have signed up for this year’s race, the majority riding 350 miles to McGrath. 22 riders attempt to go on to Nome for a total of 1000 miles. They follow the Iditarod trail, which seems to be very fast this year, despite or because of the low snow conditions.

Arriving at Puntilla Lake

Arriving at Puntilla Lake

So far I have seen one single speed, one bike without front brakes, no shocks, some carbon frames… I am not sure how important the gear is. The mindset is certainly crucial. This is not a race for the faint-hearted. Yes, there are food drops, cabins, and checkers along the way. Then again, there are long ours of solitude, exertion, and struggle. I am surprised how little attention these athletes get compared to the Iron Dog snowmobile racers or the Iditarod sled dog mushers.

Eyes on the trail

Eyes on the trail

Oh, I forgot. There are also a handful participants that walk or ski the distance. Looking forward to seeing those athletes to arrive at Puntilla Lake.

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Into the Wild

Iditarod Air Force

The official Air Force logo

The official Air Force logo

Puntilla Lake is an official checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail. I had no idea how much effort goes into preparing the trail for this race. Not only stakes and markers, but also bridges, tree cutting, and snow shoveling are part of the preparations. This is all done by volunteers, who work long hours in the cold.

Last night a trail crew arrived in the dark, frozen beards, wet boots and all. Reluctantly they drank a cup of coffee and some water before heading back out into the night.

During the day we had a fleet of volunteer pilots drop tons of hay, dog food, and other supplies. When I say tons I am not exaggerating. It was a beautiful day for flying. There is an official logo for these volunteer pilots: The Iditarod Air Force. The pilots all seemed to be proud and enthusiastic to be part of that race.

Marty

Marty

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Into the Wild

The race is on!

Sled dog

Ready to race

Good news!

The 2014 Iditarod Race is following the traditional Iditarod Trail leading through the Alaska Range. Due to the icy conditions on parts of the trail the race committee had considered a different route, but Mother Nature has provided a little dusting and we hope a little more snow will make the trail safe for everybody. It is supposed to be toughest sled dog race on Earth…

This means we will have 72 mushers, over thousand dogs, and a few hundred spectators at Rainy Pass Lodge in a couple of weeks. We will listen to a different tune than the roaring 600cc snow machines that came through here this weekend for the Iron Dog. To round up the madness, a few selected extreme bikers, runners, and skiers will come by the week after during the Iditarod Trail Invitational.

Looking forward to all the activity, and the return to “normal” afterwards.

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